In the beginning

It is believed that the universe began at a single instant in an enormous explosion, often called the big bang. Astronomers still find evidence of this explosion in the movement of galaxies and the microwave background radiation once associated with the primeval fireball. In the first fractions of a second after the big bang, the amount of matter and radiation, at a ratio of about 1 in 108, was fixed. Minutes later the relative abundances of hydrogen (H), deuterium (D) and helium (He) were determined. Heavier elements had to await the formation and processing of these gases within stars. Elements as heavy as iron (Fe) can be made in the cores of stars, while stars which end their lives as explosive supernovae can produce much heavier elements.

Hydrogen and helium are the most abundant elements in the universe, relics of the earliest moments in element production. However, it is the stellar production process that led to the characteristic cosmic abundance of the elements (Fig. 1.1). Lithium (Li), beryllium (Be) and boron (B) are not very stable in stellar interiors, hence the low abundance of these light elements in the universe. Carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and oxygen (O) are formed in an efficient cyclic process in stars that leads to their relatively high abundance. Silicon (Si) is rather resistant to photodissociation (destruction by light) in stars, so it is also abundant and dominates the rocky world we see about us.

0 0

Post a comment